LITTLETON -- In a historic building on the north bank of the Ammonoosuc River, an extended family from Michigan is brewing old-school, artisanal European beers, managing in just six short months - albeit with years of planning and extensive market research - to earn a growing number of accolades and admirers.
The symbol for Schilling Beer is three interlinked ears of wheat representing excellence, community and family. The story began in Traverse City, Mich., and the home of Bruce and Kathy Cozzens.
Veternarian Cozzens and homemaker wife Kathy had three sons: Jeff, Matt and Stuart, and they unofficially adopted a fourth, John Lenzini.
Jeff and Lenzini were classmates at Traverse Senior High School, where they played on the football team and studied German. Fast friends, they later attended the University of Indiana as undergrads before splitting off to follow separate interests. While in college, Lenzini began home brewing, a passion he shared with Cozzens and the rest of his "brothers."
During a teaching stint at the American International School in Salzburg, Austria, Lenzini, who held degrees in German and chemistry, went into the history of continental brewing and taught himself to read recipes in the original German.
In constant communication with Jeff Cozzens - who is an author, lecturer and expert in militant Islam and other forms of extremism and also the president of White Mountain Research, - Lenzini and Cozzens began formulating a dream to one day open a micro-brewery.Growing up with a love of all things outdoors, Cozzens began thinking about how to move his young family out of the Washington, D.C., area.
By degrees, he segued from a bricks-and-mortar operation to being a consultant who could work from anywhere, and that anywhere turned out to be Lancaster.
A year later, Lenzini took a job in the science department at the St. Johnsbury School in Vermont, and the Schilling Beer Co. began to come into focus.
In 2012, Cozzens did a study that "screamed Littleton," he said, and revealed there was a thirst for New Hampshire-made craft brews.
According to Cozzens, while Granite Staters are among the nation's leaders in annual per-capita consumption of beer, only about 10 percent of what they drink is brewed here, which is significantly lower than neighboring Vermont.
Having confirmed that Littleton was the place, Cozzens, Schilling Beer Co.'s chief executive officer; and Lenzini, its head brewer and president; started looking for a suitable place..
They settled on the former Littleton grist mill building which, according to Lauren Anderson, the executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, is believed to be the oldest commercial structure north of Concord.
Cozzens and Lenzini invited in partners - Bruce Cozzens, Stuart Cozzens, who took a break from pursuing a PhD in theology in Scotland and is now the company's chief operating officer and general manager; and also Matt Cozzens, who is its chief financial officer. Unlike Jeff and Stuart, Matt stayed in Michigan and opened Seven Monks, a tap room that Draft Magazine said was one of the 100 best in the nation.
In late September 2013, the Schilling Beer Co. opened its doors, offering beers and brews from Belgium, Germany, Austrian, Bohemia, Poland and Scandinavia with names like Palmovka, which is a Bohemian-style Pilsner; Smoked Kristall, a take on a traditional Austrian wheat beer; and Dr. Oovert, a dark, strong Belgian ale with what is described as "multitude of dark fruit flavors and caramel malt on the palate."
Named after Richard J. Schilling - who is the Cozzens' maternal grandfather, or as they refer to him in German, as their "opa" - the Schilling Co. boasts a round, wood-fired oventhat generates a variety of foods meant to compliment the beers.
The food is very good, said Jeff Cozzens, but "the heart and soul of Schilling" is Lenzini and the passion for brewing that he now shares with his "brothers."
With his degree in chemistry, Lenzini has a leg up on other brewers, said Cozzens, adding that Lenzini's proficiency in the German language, even its more archaic forms, is also very helpful, especially because. you need to be able to research in the Mother Tongue" if you're going to make an 18th-century recreation.
Schilling caters to "an informed consumer," said Stuart Cozzens, who appreciates not just craft, but artisanal beer. Nationally, the craft beer market has been growing, and female consumers are an increasing part of it, said Anderson, who noted that two-thirds of Schilling's Facebook followers are women.
Anderson added that Schilling Beer is a perfect fit for Littleton whose location - roughly equidistant between Montreal, Boston, Burlington and Portland, Maine - has made it a great place for young entrepreneurs.
Matt Keating, owner and operator of Badass Outdoors Gear Shop, said he, like the Cozzens, came to Littleton, from Prescott, Ariz., because he determined that this town of 6,000 was a good place to launch his business.
There's a very positive community vibe in Littleton, said Keating. "We are each other's customers and we are each others patrons."
Recently, Keating took three of Jeff Cozzens' photographer friends on an excursion around Littleton, which Keating called the "quintessential mountain town." The photographers' cumulative work will be on display at the Schilling Beer Co. beginning June 12.
Although he said he discovered Littleton by taking a random exit off the highway, Keating quickly found friends here, among them Daniel Trigg, who is Schilling's manager, and who had been his roommate at Bennington College.
Keating is a regular at Schilling, and the brewery is rapidly also winning other followers, earning 4.5 out of five stars on TripAdvisor.
Although Schilling has mostly its own brews on tap, it also offers other New Hampshire-made beverages, including those from Portsmouth's Smuttynose Brewing. Additionally, Schilling is developing a collaborative beer with White Birch Brewing of Hooksett.
For more information about the Schilling Beer Co., go to www.schillingbeer.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/schilling.beer.